Great Sand Dunes National Park: An alien world

April 18, 2014

Great Sand Dunes photo Steve Davis

I visited this park in March 2014. The park is located at the base of the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains in south-central Colorado. It is west of Interstate 25, north of US Highway 160, and east of Colorado 17. Access into the park is excellent, but is a little off the beaten track. It’s well worth the drive.

The huge dunes, North America’s tallest, are the focal point of this park. It was a surreal experience. One could almost visualize being in the Sahara Desert. Star Dune at 755 feet (230 metres) is the tallest in the park. At a close second is High Dune at 699 feet (213 metres).

Evidence shows that humans have lived in the area for 11,000 years. In historic times Southern Ute, Jicarilla Apache, Navajo, gold miners, homesteaders, ranchers, and farmers have lived here.

The dunes are a source of local pride and tourist income. By the 1920s valley residents petitioned for protection of the area. In 1932 it was designated national monument status under the Antiquities Act. Finally in 2000 the dunes and surrounding area became a national park and preserve.

The park facilities include a visitor/interpretive centre, hiking trails, picnic areas and campgrounds. When we visited it was still cool and jackets were a necessity. In summer though the temperature can reach into the 100s F (40s C).

Climbing the dunes is an experience not to be missed, even if you only go part of the way. Carry lots of water and a jacket. A good pair of athletic shoes is all you need, but be prepared to get sand in your shoes. From the visitor centre you have to walk a couple of hundred yards across a flat, beach-like area to get to the dunes.

Being on the dunes is like being in an alien world. As a photographer I was challenged to take the time to find new perspectives, it cries out for a picture every time you look around. It’s possible to slide down the dunes on boards similar to snow boards, these can be rented at a store a short distance outside the park entrance. The ranger told me that normal toboggans, snow boards, or saucers won’t work on the sand. Something about the consistency and make up of it. My son met some kids who let him try it and he was thrilled. They were from Colorado and told us they came here often to try out their skills. The dunes are steep, but forgiving if you fall, you’ll be filled with sand but not injuries.

If you’re looking for an unusual experience then this park is a must.


Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
11999 Highway 150
Mosca, CO 81146-9798




Feeling Like a Pro

June 5, 2007


It was a sunny but cool day in the Rockies. I was playing the pristine 18 hole layout at the Golden Golf Club in Golden, British Columbia. Golden is three hours west of Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway. It is one of my favorite courses. Scenery and fresh air more than make up for any wayward golf shots. It is a wonderful place to experience golf. My golfing ability level is “recreational”, I play well enough to enjoy the game, but not well enough to challenge the pros. Usually I shoot scores in the mid-80s to low 90s. My game can best be described as “flashes of brilliance and moments of despair”. I have been playing since my late teens and am now over 50. Enjoyment of the game is now paramount in my golf goals. This particular day I was playing with two local men I met in the clubhouse. The weather was great for golf, not too cold or hot, with just a whisper of wind.

The tenth hole at Golden is a par 4 of 370 yards from the White tees and is uphill all the way from the tee box to the green. The slope of the fairway is more severe in the last 150 yards to the hole. It is relatively straight away with maybe a very slight dogleg right.

No.10 at Golden, B.C.

Hitting my driver off the tee, I sliced into a fairway bunker located 198 yards out on the right. The dreaded slice is one of my weaknesses, as it is for a lot of recreational golfers. Usually I manage to control it. Most of the time it manifests itself as a slight fade. This drive had to be classified as a moderate slice.

Approaching the hazard I saw that the ball was in the sand towards the front. The golf ball was sitting up on the white sand. As I scoped out the next shot I noticed the 150 yard marker was just ahead of the bunker. While I was waiting on my playing partners’ shots I walked to the marker and paced the yardage back to the ball. The distance was about 22 yards. This meant the total distance to the center of the green was 172 yards. The top part of the flagstick was visible, but not the green or the hole.

My club selection was a number 7 metal fairway wood out of the sand. Ideally this would have enough club loft to get out of the trap. Hopefully I would also be able to advance the ball. I stepped into the trap wriggled my feet around until my stance was solid in the loose sand. I decided to concentrate on the one golf tip that came to my mind – keep your eyes on the sand just behind the ball during the swing.

I felt comfortable in my stance, so I took a full swing. At once I realized I had made excellent contact with the ball. The feeling was very sweet as we golfers like to say. The ball streaked out of the sand on a mission. It had good height and was arching directly at the pin. Eyes glued to the flight of the ball, I realized I had hit the ball too well. Surely I thought it would end its flight beyond the target, likely in the rough.

Pessimistically, I approached the green and did not see the ball anywhere. Behind the green was an open area covered with long grass. This can be best described as thick, moderate rough. Balls tend to nestle down and become invisible in this type of golf course terrain. I started to look here right away but could not locate the ball.

Finally in disgust I gave up the search and sheepishly headed for the flagstick. I wanted help my partners by removing it so they could concentrate on their putts. As I pulled the pin, I looked down and there was my ball! My heart racing with excitement I reached down. Removing it from the hole, I examined it in detail. Sure enough it was my “Ultra 500”. I looked at them, they looked at me. Then my excitement could not be contained anymore. They rushed over to congratulate me as I let out a jubilant cry. I had scored a two on a par 4. This is known as an eagle (two strokes under par). To play this hole and score even a four (par) would be considered outstanding.

My golf day was made and I felt like I could do no wrong. Golf was an easy game or so I thought. The next hole was a short but difficult par 4. Confidence exuded from my psyche. With new found prowess the tension I usually felt when approaching the hole evaporated. I proceeded to take six strokes to complete this hole. A double-bogy! The golf gods had sent me a message and shocked me to reality.

In the final analysis, what did I care? I had scored an eagle. Very few recreational golfers ever achieve this feat, especially on a golf course of this level of difficulty. For one brief moment I was as good as Tiger Woods.

%d bloggers like this: